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BANG BANG BANG: “The Fight Game” Returns, With More Punching Power

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The re-energized “The Fight Game,” Jim Lampley’s boxing magazine show on HBO, debuted last night (Tuesday, Sept. 16) after I went to bed.

The show, which debuted in May 2012, is still a work in progress, not surprisingly, perhaps, since it ran so intermittently, once every couple months. Now, Lampley tells TSS, the show, a half hour program, will screen once a month, til the end of the year, at least, and that will likely result in a quicker solidification of what works, content-wise, and rhythmically.

The longtime HBO blow by blow caller—-oh, and by the way, might this be an opportune time to ask why this erudite and mindful broadcast lead-dog is not in the International Boxing Hall of Fame? Should that not be rectified, on the next ballot?—kicked things off with a look at the “Cold War.”

Lampley brought us up to speed on the Hatfield/McCoy dynamic which has kept no brainer fights from being made, and HBO and Showtime and Golden Boy and Top Rank squabbling and/or ignoring each other while uber advisor Al Haymon moves his chess pieces in masterful fashion, but in a manner which sometimes benefits a select few over the masses, the masses being us, the boxing fans.

Lampley chatted on the Russell Jr-Lomachenko scrap, and the Bernard Hopkins-Adonis Stevenson-Sergey Kovalev stew, and noted that it’s been a year and a half since a Golden Boy fighter (Hopkins) will appear on HBO. HBO, you’ll recall, quite publicly threw down the gauntlet in March 2013 and went all arctic when they tired of what they perceived was Haymon’s disloyalty, in ushering his guys, after being built up on HBO, over to Showtime for better pay. The host said a “diplomatic thaw” is under way, and he had Oscar and Arum on split screen.

Oscar said it’s up to the promoters to have the best fighting the best, which is what he did when he gloved up. “My philosophy has always been in order to satisfy the millions of fans who love boxing we must set our egos aside and make these big fights happen.” Arum chimed in, “I couldn’t agree more with Oscar.” He called the lack of promotional intermingling a “travesty for boxing.” He said it’s just “idiocy” when one promoter says they won’t deal with another. Arum said he’d like to make a Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez fight.

Lampley said that the Haymon presence, lurking, looming, overshadowing, perhaps, is seen as an impediment to peace. He said there’s much evidence to prove Haymon’s hand is causing desirable fights from being made. Oscar said under his leadership “a lot has changed.” That is, without Richard Schaefer around, things have changed. He has talked to Haymon about doing things differently and “he has expressed a lot of interest,” the Hall of Fame fighter said. (Note: A rumor is spreading that Haymon might be doing a mega-deal with NBC for content, so it remains to be seen how his power base will shift, stall or grow in the near future.) Oscar noted that the history between him and Arum is complicated. That it is; they have sparred viciously in the past. http://lat.ms/1qYrtAq

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But to his point—people don’t have to love, or even like each other to do business, and for the fans, which is what Oscar always comes back to, it would be helpful if the memories of these two are short, in this case.

“This will take time..but we will make this happen,” said Oscar on an up note. Arum announced he is looking forward to talking to Oscar later in the week. Solid segment, upbeat, informative, not lacking in gravity.

Next up, Lampley talked about Roc Nation’s entry into our fair sport. Peter Quillin’s career was referenced, and he called Roc’s bid on a Quillin-Korobov an “emphatic overbid.” He raised eyebrows that Quillin, having never been paid more than $500,000 for a fight, turned down the $1.4 million he would have made to fight Korobov. Lampley took aim at Haymon for self-serving steering, looking to match two of his clients, Quillin and Danny Jacobs, instead of doing that Quillin-Korobov bout, with Korobov being a Top Rank/Cameron Dunkin guy. Roc and their leader Jay Z have proven, Lampley said, “that they mean business.” Snappy, pointed, with journalistic chops, with an opinionated and populist edge, I enjoyed the segment. Would Haymon? Not sure, he doesn’t do media, so we can’t get into his head.

Next, Lampley went into Floyd Mayweather and his future. He said after two more fights, Floyd could be a free agent, and nearing 50-0, he might be an even bigger lure to bankrollers/broadcasters. Or maybe not…Lampley insinuated that Mayweather eschews risk to the point that fans really shouldn’t expect him to change that trait. Maybe he’ll fight Manny for win 50…or maybe that will never occur, the host said.

The Fight Game top 5, pound for pound, according to Lampley, who snuck in a Floyd/Fiddy/reading crack: 1) Mayweather; 2) Andre Ward, a choice which engineers message board debate, considering how infrequently Ward fights; 3) Manny Pacquiao; 4) Gennady Golovkin, another choice drawing dissective buzz and 5) Sergey Kovalev, which Lampley allowed might open him up for scorn, should Hopkins show the Russian to be more sizzle than steak on Nov. 8.

Lampley got in some love for HBO stalwarts Kovalev and Golovkin, and snuck in some Occupy type talk, telling us that it is up to US to push, to demand, to see the fights we want to see. He told us that he’d be wearing smart glasses for fights, which will allow us to see through his eyes. I appreciate anyone looking to employ current technology to bring our staid sport up to date, for the record.

Then, Lampley introduced regular Michelle Beadle, an ESPN personality. The un-shy Beadle, for whom my fondness grew when she went against ESPN orders and stirred the pot on Twitter against sometimes blowhard Stephen A. Smith when he stepped in it with statements on domestic abuse, couldn’t manage to caffeinate Terence Crawford. The 140 pound champ, on HBO’s short list of building blocks for the near future, spoke to the ESPNer from his home in Nebraska. I don’t know if Beadle is a boxing fan, but she was well prepared, and her professionalism was obvious. I expect her role to mature and to mesh better when she has a better foil than the soft-spoken Crawford, who is getting used to the glare and stare of us intrusive instigators. I was slightly distracted by Beadle’s face, a pleasant one which suggests Cameron Diaz. She sat with Lampley in the manner in which the reporter gets de-briefed by Bryant Gumble on his “Real Sports” show. This will give her an opportunity to showcase her relatively fearless voice, moving forward. The host took a crack at Mayweather, and his comments re: Ray Rice. Beadle said that she didn’t know how bad Floyd’s track record regarding domestic violence was, that he “beats (women) silly,” and that she doesn’t see him changing his ways.

This segment stood out for me as the most “commercial-ly” of all of them, in my mind. He faces Ray Beltran, on Nov. 29, in Nebraska, and on HBO. Then Beadle took off her gloves—Bang! Bang!—and finished by saying that she thinks Floyd will continue to add to his rap sheet. “Most likely,” said Lampley, in a strong and provocative capper.

The Gatti List came next. Omar Figueroa was the first mentioned who “gives you their moneys worth” win or lose, then Yuriorkis Gamboa, Marcos Maidana, and Evander Holyfield topped this edition.

Max Kellerman joined Lampley, on satellite. They touched on a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. They now need each other, Max said, because their PPVs are dwindling. “They need each other now, it can happen,” Max said.

What about Andre Ward? Will the fans still care if he keeps staying on the sideline? There’s that risk…but Floyd too knew how to steer his ship. Max thinks Ward has that same confidence and has “star potential.”

And Gennady Golovkin? Max noted that Marvin Hagler had to keep on hammering away against lesser lights before he could lure the Hearns, Durans and Sugar Rays. “Brilliant,” summed up Lampley of Kellerman’s analysis.

In his closing comment, Lampley hammered Mayweather. “If the goal is to push the limits of public taste to the point where the overwhelming preponderance of consumers simply wash their hands and want nothing to do with him or his fights, his blithe comment to the effect that the NFL was over-reacting to a videotape by suspending Ray Rice is probably a pretty good start. And his garbled apology did little to remove the stench. This was the absolute height of heaving a rock out of a glass house, and if he honestly thinks he can offer that kind of love to Rice without offending significant numbers of fans and observers, he’s wrong. The fact is, unbeaten record or not, consummate skill notwithstanding, Floyd Mayweather is often an aggressively distasteful human being whose behaviors are a blight on the boxing landscape. He also said last week that he will retire from the ring at the completion of his six fight CBS/Showtime contract, and in responding to the result of his most recent win, earlier in the show, we ignored that, because it won’t happen. But if it did, no damage would accrue to boxing. Fact is, for the betterment of boxing’s image, Floyd Mayweathers’ retirement cannot come a moment too soon.”

Bang bang.

Want to know what would be interesting? If the CBS deal ends, and HBO signs Floyd to a one fight deal, to fight Pacquiao, and that scathing commentary is still ringing in Floyd’s head.

Theater of the unexpected, the red light district of sport, the very best athletic avenue through which to examine the human animal, that complex and infuriating and evervating and catalyzing and tantalizing character, which I think Lampley is well suited to pore over, and then share his takeaways.

Check back for my debrief with Lampley, which took place on Wednesday late morning.

Follow me on Twitter for boxing news and the occasional broadside at callous titans engaged in public service whose sole mission is to enrich themselves. https://twitter.com/Woodsy1069

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Erickson Lubin Wins, But Misplaced His Hammer

David A. Avila

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Erickson Lubin misplaced the hammer but found a way to victory over Terrell Gausha by unanimous decision in a slow-developing WBC super welterweight eliminator on Saturday.

Lubin (23-1, 16 KOs), a southpaw slugger, was unable to lower the boom on Gausha (21-2-1, 10 KOs) at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. But he did enough in a tactical battle that only activated into a real fight in the later rounds.

Back and forth the two super welterweights mostly feinted and fired blows at each other’s guard. Few managed to pierce for scoring blows and those that landed were mostly to the body.

“It was a chess match. I respected what he had, he was trying to counter what I had. My trainer was telling me to be cautious and not get hit with anything stupid,” said Lubin, whose trainer is the respected Kevin Cunningham.

Gausha, 33, was the more accurate puncher but fired less than Lubin. Though he seemingly scored more often with counter rights, the scarcity of his blows allowed Lubin to control the pace of the fight.

It wasn’t until the mid-rounds that Gausha stepped into a slightly quicker pace. In the 10th, a short right connected and wobbled Lubin who covered up.

“I knew I had hurt him, but he was able to recover,” said Gausha, 24, who tried to finish off the hurt fighter but was unable to land another scoring blow.

“I’m in shape and I was able to recuperate,” Lubin revealed.

It was still unclear who was winning the fight. In the 12th and final round Lubin stepped up the pace and connected with a crisp right hook that clearly snapped the head of Gausha. But he fought his way out of the dangerous corner.

After 12 rounds all three judges scored it for Lubin 115-113, 116-112, 118-110.

“Gausha is a tough competitor, he’s at the top for a reason,” said Lubin. “I feel I beat one of the top 154s and I’m going to keep doing that.”

Gausha was classy in defeat.

“I take my hat off to Erickson Lubin. He was the better man tonight,” said Gausha.

Lubin now awaits the winner between Jermell Charlo and Jeison Rosario who fight each other next week for the WBC, WBA and IBF super welterweight titles. Showtime will provide the title match on pay-per-view.

Featherweights

Former IBO featherweight titlist Tug Nyambayar (12-1, 9 KOs) floored Cobia Breedy (15-1) twice in the first two rounds but struggled the rest of the way to win by split decision. One judge scored it 115-113 for Breedy and two others for Mongolia’s Nyambayar 114-112 and 114-113.

Nyambayar knocked down Breedy with a counter right cross in the first round and then floored him with four rights and a left hook in the second. After that, Breedy was the busier fighter and no one was able to take control.

“Boxing is boxing. It was a tough fight,” said Nyambayar.

Welterweights

In a solid match Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) was able to find out exactly where he stands against real competition and stopped the unstoppable Juan Carlos Abreu (23-6-1, 21 KOs) in the sixth round by technical knockout in their welterweight showdown.

More than just a knockout win, Ennis discovered that he can indeed take a punch from an elite level puncher.

Nobody questioned whether Ennis had boxing skills or athleticism and power, but nobody knew if he could take a punch. They discovered it as Abreu was able to connect in the fourth and fifth rounds. The Dominican fighter pulled out his tricks and connected several times with sneaky rights and lefts. Ennis remained standing.

Abreu was looking to trade bombs with Ennis in the fifth and sixth round and paid the price in getting delivered to the canvas with a pretty right counter uppercut. He survived. But in the sixth a slew of punches along the ropes sent him down again. He beat the count again but during a fierce exchange he was floored a final time at 1:06 of the sixth round. It was the first time Abreu had ever been stopped.

“I feel I put on a wonderful show and got the knockout,” said Ennis. “I feel I showed the division I am here.”

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Fast Results from the MGM Bubble: Pedraza Outclasses Molina Plus Undercard

Arne K. Lang

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The featured bout on tonight’s card at the MGM Bubble was a match between 2008 Olympians. It was a competitive match on paper, but Jose Pedraza turned in one of the better performances of his career while turning away Javier Molina who just wasn’t in Pedraza’s league tonight. The fight went the full 10 with the judges voting for the Boricua by scores of 99-91 and 98-92 twice. A former two-division belt-holder who looked very comfortable in his second start at 140, Pedraza boosted his record to 28-3. Molina, who had won five straight coming in, falls to 22-3.

Pedraza was manhandled by Gervonta Davis in 2017, outclassed by Vasyl Lomachenko in 2018, and upset by Jose Zepeda last year, but showed tonight that he still has plenty of mileage left on his odometer. Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez each own two pieces of the 140-pound title, but Pedraza seems to have found a new gear at age 31 and is nipping at their heels. However, Pedraza also hankers to renew acquaintances with Zepeda and that will likely come first.

In the 10-round heavyweight co-feature, Efe Ajagba’s higher workrate carried him to a 10-round unanimous decision over Jonathan Rice. The scores were 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Ajagba, the Houston-based Nigerian making his first start under the Top Rank banner, advanced his record to 14-0 (11) but was underwhelming. Rice, the terror of Tijuana taxi drivers, fell to 13-6-1 and solidified his reputation as a useful gatekeeper.

Robeisy Ramirez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Cuba who now resides in the Miami area, improved to 5-1 with a unanimous 8-round decision over Puerto Rico’s Felix Caraballo (13-3-2). Both appeared on the inaugural MGM Bubble card with Caraballo, fighting for the first time in the U.S., suffering a sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Shakur Stevenson. Tonight’s uneventful fight saw Ramirez on cruise control as he won by scores of 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

San Bernardino junior middleweight Leo Ruiz improved to 8-0 with a 6-round unanimous decision over Cancun’s Rodrigo Solis (4-5-1). Both fighters had a point deducted in round five; Ruiz, 21, for low blows and Solis for spitting out his mouthpiece. The scores were 58-54 and 59-53 twice.

In a fight that wasn’t on the original schedule, Houston super middleweight Christian Montano improved to 10-0 (7) with a 6-round unanimous decision over St. Louis’ Ryan Adams (7-4-1). A three-time national amateur champion, Montano, who is of Columbian descent, had knocked out seven of his previous opponents in the opening round. He looked poorly conditioned tonight but yet won every round on two of the scorecards.

Lightweight Bryan Lua, who hails from the town of Madera in central California’s agricultural belt, returned to the ring after a 27-month absence and scored a one-punch knockout over Chile’s Luis Norambuena. A left hook did the damage, bringing the bout to a sudden conclusion at the 2:27 mark of round two. Lua, (6-0, 3 KOs) won two of three over Ryan Garcia as an amateur. It was a quick turnaround for Norambuena (4-7-1) who lost a 4-round decision in this ring last week.

The first two bouts on the card showcased the newest members of Top Rank’s “Kiddie Corps.” Kasir Goldston and Jahi Tucker, 17-year-old welterweights, launched their pro careers on a winning note.

Goldston, a southpaw from Albany, NY, opened the show with a 4-round unanimous decision over Wisconsin’s Isaiah Varnell (3-3). The scores were 40-36 and 39-37 twice.

Tucker, who trains in the same Long Island town that spawned Buddy McGirt, put away Alabama’s Deandre Anderson (1-2) in the opening round. Anderson came out winging, but the precocious Tucker picked him apart. Referee Robert Hoyle stepped in and stopping the mismatch at the 2:56 mark. As an amateur, Tucker was ranked #1 at 138 pounds while still a sophomore in high school.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 105: Angry Welterweights and More

David A. Avila

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Those welterweights don’t play.

One welterweight just got out of jail and wants to take out his angry frustrations in the boxing ring.

“One of us is getting knocked out. If it gets to where I’m behind on points, I’m just going to come forward and try to take him out, even if I end up getting knocked out,” said Juan Carlos Abreu. ““If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want.”

Standing in front of Abreu (23-5-1) will be one of the top welterweights in America, Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs). This is could be Ennis’ first true test against an experienced foe on Saturday Sept. 19, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Ennis, 23, has been breezing easily since first jumping in the prize ring in April 2016. So far, the competition has been unable to cope with the athleticism he possesses. Will Abreu be the first to pose a problem?

“Whatever he brings, we are going to be ready. I’m going to go out there, do my thing, be smart, have my fun, and get that stoppage at the end of the night,” said Ennis, whose last opponent Bakhtiyar Eyubov was eliminated in four rounds in January. “You can’t just go in there and go for the knockout. That’s how you get tired and lose your cool or even get hit with punches that you shouldn’t be getting hit with.”

Abreu hopes he loses his cool.

“If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want. I really want one of us to get knocked out,” says Abreu of the Dominican Republic who was purportedly jailed for street fighting.

This welterweight matchup is the precursor to the WBC super welterweight eliminator between Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KOs) and Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs).

Gausha and Lubin both have lost once in their pro careers and need a win to get another crack at a world title.

Gausha lost a decision to Erislandy Lara three years ago. Lubin was stopped in one round by Jermell Charlo three years ago. Both realize the nature of the beast.

“I think Gausha has some problems with southpaws, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on my game plan and coming out victorious Saturday night,” said Lubin, 24, a southpaw called “the Hammer” for a reason.

Gausha is originally from Cleveland, Ohio but trains in Southern California and has fought four elite southpaws in his career. He believes one more is not a problem.

“This will be my fourth southpaw in a row. So, I’m more comfortable and familiar this time around,” said Gausha, 33, a former US Olympian who trains with Manny Robles Jr. “The guys before me, they all fought each other. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran. They all fought each other. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And you can see that the fights I take, even after a long layoff, they are tough fights.”

Top Rank

Also, on Saturday Sept. 19, heavyweights and super lightweights lead a Top Rank card featuring some interesting bouts that will be shown on ESPN+.

Newly acquired Efe Ajagba (13-0,11 KOs) meets Jonnie Rice (13-5-1) in a 10-round heavyweight clash. It’s Nigeria’s Ajagba’s second fight this year. Though still a little raw he shows immense potential and great natural strength.

Rice fights out of Bones Adams’ Gym in Las Vegas and has some power. He built up his record on heavyweights in Tijuana boxing rings but has some pop. He’s a sizeable heavyweight and good measuring stick for Ajagba.

The main event is a doozy.

Puerto Rico’s Jose “The Sniper” Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) meets Southern California’s Javier Molina (22-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round super lightweight bout at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas.

This should be good.

Pedraza, 31, is a former WBO lightweight world titlist who lost in his first defense to Vasyl Lomachenko. Nothing bad about that. He defeated Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran for the belt and has shown a penchant for showing up big when you least expect it.

Molina, 30, is a 2008 US Olympian and a member of the fighting Molina family. His brother Oscar was a member of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic team. His other brother Carlos fought for the world title against Amir Khan. Though Javier Molina has never shown great power, he can truly fight.  His last win came against Amir Imam this past February.

Pending Lightweight Clash

Speaking of the lightweight division, is anyone else as excited as me about the looming showdown between the remarkable Vasyl Lomachenko and impressive Teofimo Lopez coming in less than a month?

Lomachenko, 32, the Ukrainian stylist known as “Hi Tech,” has that incredible footwork and ability to control distance. He’s a master of frustrating opponents and imposing his style of darting in and out of danger. But as good as he is, he can’t sell tickets. Only hardcore fans appreciate his peerless boxing skills.

Lopez, 23, hails from Brooklyn and has that ex-factor you can’t teach. He’s pizzazz and panache with a punch. That combination of flair and power excites fans and seemingly makes him a natural gate attraction. But in spite of his electric abilities, he’s facing a master boxer. Is he ready?

Top Rank is known for having a team of matchmakers headed by boxing wizard Bruce Trampler. It makes me wonder why they are pitting these two against each other?

The probable answer: neither sells out an arena alone. May the best man win.

A friend of mine from East L.A., who formerly boxed and comes from a boxing family, shared his knowledge and opinion on the matchup. He has an interesting take.

“His footwork is incredible,” said George Rodriguez about Lomachenko. “Don’t get me wrong, Teofimo is an incredible talent, but Lomachenko has that footwork.”

Any way you look at it, the winner of this clash clearly bumps up his own image.

Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) versus Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas on October 17. Mark down that date. It will be televised on ESPN.

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